Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Beyond Beyonce': Tia Fuller Moves Decisively Forward at the Dakota

© Andrea Canter

On her website, saxophonist Tia Fuller explains that she “wants people to be uplifted and experience a sense of restoration, compelling them to move forward not in fear, but in love and faith.” That drive ahead is abundantly evident on her latest CD, Decisive Steps (Mack Avenue), which I fully expect will remain on my “best of the year” list through December. (See review at http://www.jazzpolice.com/content/view/8912/79/ ) And even more so in her live gig at the Dakota. Fuller typically plays with her all-gal band including Shamie Royston, Miriam Sullivan and Kim Thompson, but for this gig she rounded up an equally talented “family” quartet (sister Shamie Royston on keys, brother-in-law Rudy Royston on drums, and young and outrageously talented bassist—no relation—Luques Curtis). They’re here for one more night and anyone who enjoys high energy post bop should grab a seat. Then buckle your seat belt.

There’s something about the black high heels, the glowing red fingernails, the multiple gold bracelets, big hoop earrings that belies the brawny force behind the alto sax. The look might still say Beyoncé (Tia’s “day gig”) but the sound hollers bits of Kenny Garrett, James Carter, Eric Alexander, Ravi Coltrane, even Chris Potter and Joe Lovano—indeed, this altoist reminds me more of the top tier of tenors than the current crop of alto players. Maybe it’s her full use of the horn from top to bottom, or the way she leaps from one interval to another, or her ability to extract such a wide palette of tones… or the internalized giant steps of her early love of John Coltrane.

The first set last night was a combination of volcanic original tunes and one sumptuous ballad (“I Can’t Get Started”), many from Decisive Steps or the earlier Healing Space. Tia and the band came out roaring on her “Breakthrough,” drummer Royston matching Fuller’s spiraling sonics which continued a good ten minutes before a break to enjoy Shamie Royston’s fluid lines and thick chords. A luxurious piano intro launched Shamie’s “Windsoar,” setting up Tia’s probing, melodic abstractions. Luques Curtis, who has been seen here with Sean Jones, took his first solo, a thumpy, bumpy display. Tia explained that her two-part Katrina Suite was part prayer, part lullaby. Just piano and sax gave “Katrina’s Prayer” an elegant start, Fuller suggesting some of the more hymnal works of Charles Lloyd. “Katrina’s Lullaby” was more celebratory than somnolent, Tia quickly shifting intervals through triumphant climbs and relaxing descents.

Tia introduced her “Shades of McBride” as a tribute to friend Christian McBride (who was just in town last week), based on his “Shades of the Cedar Tree.” Shamie Royston’s keyboard work here glittered and glowed, while husband Rudy blitzed through his first drum solo of the evening. Slowing down, if only for a few minutes, Tia demonstrated the softer side of her horn on the lovely “I Can’t Get Started,” starting with a solo sax prelude, followed by bass and drums, finally adding sparse comping from Shamie, and continuing with a restrained passion that ended in Tia’s majestic cadenza. The set came to a funky close with Tia’s “Ebb and Flow,” here the saxophonist more strongly suggesting Kenny Garrett, Curtis adding bubbling lines that suggested an electric bass.

Sometimes the level of audience enjoyment is a direct reflection of the number of smiles, grins, outright laughs from the musicians. Throughout tonight’s first set, it was hard to determine if the Tia Fuller Quartet reflected our joy or vice versa. Either way, it’s clear that we were watching, and listening, to a very bright star in the jazz sky, climbing closer and closer to zenith, and enjoying every moment of the ride.

The Tia Fuller Quartet will be at the Dakota tonight, May 25th. Be there!

Photos: Tia Fuller, Rudy Royston, Tia Fuller, all at the Dakota on May 24, 2010, by Andrea Canter

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, May 28-June 3

© Andrea Canter

A holiday weekend with “Alexander the Great” that leads into a week that brings back the Dave Holland Quintet and the debut appearance of the Bill Charlap/Renee Rosness piano duo portends a very hot summer of jazz in the Twin Cities. Better buckle up your sonic seatbelt, the next few weeks might make you dizzy!

It’s become tradition to expect a Memorial Day weekend at the Artists Quarter with tenorman Eric Alexander. Last year he postponed (til fall) but now he’s back on track with three nights in St. Paul (5/28-30), accompanied by the Chris Lomheim Trio. Alexander is a fine a “straight-ahead” saxophonist as you’ll find on the modern scene, barely into his 40s with a discography as leader topping two dozen releases, appearing on many more with his other regular project, One for All. He’s got a hefty tone, a lot of swing, and a wide range of color.

June explodes from the first day at the Dakota. Tuesday and Wednesday (6/1-2), Lowell Pickett and company welcome the long-awaited return of the Dave Holland Quintet. Holland and his 4 cohorts (Chris Potter, Robin Eubanks, Steve Nelson and Nate Smith) have been responsible for some of the most highly regarded small ensemble releases of the past decade, while the Big Band (quintet plus more horns) has similarly been lauded for its recent recordings. Most recently Holland has experimented with an octet (adding three horns to the quintet), leading to the recent acclaimed Pathways. But at the root of it all is this quintet featuring original compositions and arrangements that will simply knock you out.

And the knock-outs continue at the Dakota into Thursday (6/3) when two of the finest pianists in modern jazz come to town to play head-to-head Yamahas, kicking off their national tour. That Bill Charlap and Renee Rosness are also husband and wife just adds to the dynamic. That their styles on the surface seem quite different—Charlap known for a swinging blend suggesting Evans, Flanagan and Peterson, Rosness known for her more adventurous, post-Tyneresque compositions and plan of attack—further piques interest in their collaboration. The advance press for their soon-to-be-released recording, Double Portrait, suggests this is a happy marriage on many levels.

Where is jazz going? One way to get a hint is to check out the talents of young artists at the beginning of their careers. The Twin Cities Jazz Society recently launched a Young Artists Series at the Artists Quarter, a nearly bimonthly series of gigs featuring bright stars of the future. The next installment (6/3) features two scholarship winners in the 2010 Jazz Piano Scholarship Competition sponsored by the Schubert Club and Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education. This “piano showcase” presents 17-year-old Kai Olstad (student of Laura Caviani) and 16-year-old Quentin Tschofen (student of Bryan Nichols). With his own trio, each pianist will perform a 30-minute set starting at 7 pm, no cover, ending in time for the “veteran” jazz set at 9.

Perhaps the most popular vocal ensemble in American jazz today, the Manhattan Transfer entertain at Orchestra Hall on Sunday (5/30), but there’s more swinging singing around the metro all week—Maud Hixson joins the Twin Cities Hot Club at Elixir (5/28); Lee Engele swings at Pardon My French with Joel Shapira (5/28) and at Sage Wine Bar with Reynold Philipsek(6/2); Erin Schwab brings cabaret to Hell’s Kitchen (5/28); Charmin Michelle serenades at brunch at Crave in the West End (5/30) and over pizza with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (5/31 & June 2); Christine Rosholt fronts Beasley’s Big Band at O’Gara’s (6/1); Debbie Duncan and Mary Louise Knutson continue their run at Camp Bar (6/1).

Some other gigs to check out this week: Mary Louise Knutson doing solo piano at Ingredients Cafe in White Bear (5/28); Fantastic Fridays at Black Dog (5/28); the Atlantis Quartet coming in for a Late Night at the Dakota gig (5/28); Gordy Johnson and Tommy O’Donnell at Roman Anthony’s in White Bear (5/29); Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel (5/29); the 7th Annual Heliotrope Festival of Underground Music (5/27-29) features George Cartwright and David Seru (5/28) and Aerosol Pike with Milo Fine (5/29) at the Ritz Theater; Alden Ikeda, Adam Linz and Mike Lewis take over at Café Maude (5/29); East Side brings their unique swing to brunch at Hell’s Kitchen (5/30); the Zacc Harris Trio as always performs at the Riverview Wine Bar on Sunday evenings (5/30); Tuesday Night Band with Cory Wong Quartet opening at the AQ (6/1); the Wolverines have their weekly fun at Hell’s Kitchen (6/2).

Coming Soon!
• June 4, How Birds Work at the AQ
• June 5, Eric Gravatt and Source Code at the AQ
• June 7-8, Stacey Kent at the Dakota
• June 11-12, Happy Apple at the AQ
• June 13-14, Stanley Clarke and Hiromi at the Dakota
• June 17-19, Twin Cities Jazz Festival at Mears Park and beyond
• June 24, Jose James at the Dakota
• July 2-4, Iowa City Jazz Festival
• July 9-10, Kendra Shank at the AQ

Photos: (top to botton): Dave Holland; Eric Alexander; Kai Olstad; Quentin Tschofen. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, May 21-27

© Andrea Canter

No pre-holiday let down in sight for Twin Cities jazz fans! Perennial favorite vocalist Stephanie Nakasian returns to the Artists Quarter and a weekend that includes a public workshop (5/23) as well as two hot evenings with the Chris Lomheim Trio (5/21-22). Nakasian typically appears here with husband/pianist Hod O’Brien, but she’s on her own this trip. Once a backup singer with the legendary Jon Hendricks, Stephanie is internationally heeled and acclaimed as one of the great interpreters of the Great American Songbook. In short, the lady swings as if she invented the concept. Also a committed educator on the faculty of the University of Virginia and College of William and Mary, Nakasian will present a workshop at MacPhail on Sunday afternoon (2 pm) which is open to all ($25).

Also in St. Paul tonight (5/21) , and again Sunday afternoon (5/23) at Studio Z, inventive tuba master Stefan Kac performs with his large ensemble, Consortium of Symphonic Transients (CoST). Performing original music from Kac and fellow Transients, the band includes Nick Zielinski, Brad Bellows, Brent Griewski, Colin Hacklander, and Wendy Ultan. Across town, Nachito Herrera is back at the Dakota (5/21-22) to give us his monthly dose of Rumba and Son and all things hot and Cuban. And stick around for the Late Night tonight (5/21) with the always hot, always powerful Kevin Washington Quartet at 11:30 pm.

Anyone who loves ferocious mainstream saxophone should plan on at least one night with Tia Fuller and her quartet (5/24-25). Back at the Dakota after a memorable one-night stand last summer, and a guest appearance with the Dakota Combo in December, Fuller’s regular gig with Beyonce has only helped to support her jazz habits, which are among the best articulated of her generation. On alto sax and flute, Tia shines on melodic ballads or hard-hitting bop, and her spring release Decisive Steps is among my favorites of 2010. It’s a family affair with sister Shamie Royston on piano and brother-in-law Rudy Royston on drums, along with young upstart Luques Curtis on bass. And if you know a student who would appreciate the opportunity, the Dakota is offering discount tickets.

Studio Z again hosts another of the Twin Cities’ high priests of improvisation, Douglas Ewart, Thursday night (5/27) with Anti-Gravity. Ewart –a past President of AACM—can show many talents in a single evening, from his sonic explorations on a wide variety of wind and percussion instruments to his self-designed bright clothing to the instruments themselves, many of which Ewart makes or decorates. A bit more down to earth level but aiming for the stratosphere in their own post bop magical way, Pete Whitman’s X-Tet shines at the Artists Quarter, also Thursday night (5/27). (So catch Ewart at Studio Z, then move a few blocks to the AQ for a great night cap!)

You can always find plenty of soothing or invigorating vocals around the Twin Cities: Nancy Harms, soon to make her New York City debut at the Bar Next Door in June, will provide a preview at Elixir with the Hot Swing Trio (5/21), at Hell’s Kitchen with the Wolverines Trio (5/26) and in the Olive Lounge of the Hilton in Bloomington (5/27). Sophia Shorai reigns at Hell’s Kitchen (5/22); Paul Renz brings his student ensembles to Brit’s Pub on Sunday (5/23); Charmin Michelle keeps busy (as always!) at Grave in the Galleria (5/21), Crave for brunch and later at Cinema Ballroom (5/23) and at Fireside Pizza (5/24 and 5/26). Christine Rosholt gets folks up and dancing at the Hat Trick Lounge (5/21); Paula Lammers and Cloud Nine swing at the School II Bistro in Chanhassen (5/22); Arne Fogel returns to Hell’s Kitchen (5/25); Debbie Duncan entertains with Mary Louise Knutson at Camp Bar (5/25); Ginger Commodore returns to the Dakota (5/26); Katie Gearty grooves with Vital Organ at Hell’s Kitchen (5/27); and Maud Hixson closes out her weekly gig for May at Erte (5/27). Singer/guitarist with multi-lingual, multicultural repertoire, Robert Everest releases a very fine recording (World on Seven Strings) at the Dakota (5/27).

More instrumental music, from swing to free: Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog (5/21); JoAnn Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel (5/22); Beatrix Jar at Café Maude (5/21); the Stan Bann Big Band at St. Barnabus in Plymouth (5/22); Copper Street Brass at the Capri (5/22); improvising pianist Rahjta Ren at Café Maude (5/22); Fat Kid Wednesdays at Hell’s Kitchen brunch (5/23); Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar (5/23); improvised music at the Clown Lounge (5/24-25) and at Art of This gallery (5/25); the Tuesday Night Band and Cory Wong Quartet at the Artists Quarter (5/25) with the Dave Karr Quartet coming in next (5/26).

Thursday night, if you are not enjoying live music, tune into KFAI radio for the Collective Eye, with cohosts Janice Layne Ewart and Pamela Espeland.

Coming Soon:
• Eric Alexander at the AQ (5/28-30)
• Dave Holland Quintet at the Dakota (6/1-2)
• TCJS Young Artists Series at the AQ, piano showcase (6/3)
• Bill Charlap and Rene Rosness, two pianos at the Dakota (6/3)
• Twin Cities Jazz Festival at Mears Park (6/17-19)

Photos: Stephanie Nakasian (at her 2009 gig at the AQ); Tia Fuller (at her summer gig at the Dakota with drummer Kim Thompson). Photos by Andrea Canter.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hank Jones, 1918 - 2010

© Andrea Canter

Returning from the 2009 Detroit Jazz Festival last September, I wrote a review for Jazz Police, including a list of “A Dozen Cool Things.” On my list: “91-year-old Hank Jones, opening the festival with a trio featuring the very elegant George Mraz on bass and ‘house drummer’ Carl Allen: They moved with exquisite feel and precision through ‘Nica’s Dream,’ ‘Speak Low,’ and ‘Stella by Starlight;’ swung with gusto through ‘Twisted Blues’ and ‘Blue Minor,’ and capped the set with a luscious ‘Round Midnight.’”

Probably I could have listed Hank Jones 11 more times to complete this list of the best of the Detroit Jazz Festival, with its theme, “Keepin’ Up With the Joneses.” The last survivor of a jazz dynasty that included Thad and Elvin, Hank Jones passed away following a brief illness yesterday in New York, just a couple months shy of his 92nd birthday and a week before his next scheduled gig at Birdland. I never saw Thad Jones. Elvin Jones came to the Dakota a few times, most recently as the first scheduled national act in the relocated club in 2003, not long before his death. I remember his wife leading him on and off the stage, as Elvin had some difficulty walking. He could still beat the heck out of the drumset but by his mid 70s, it was clearly more difficult. Hank, on the other hand, at 91 when I finally saw him live, seemed to have retained the swing and fluidity that marked his career, from comping for Ella to duo recordings with Joe Lovano and Frank Wess, and a lusicious release with Grammy nominee Roberta Gambarini only two years ago (You Are There). In between there were stints with Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, his long run with CBS Studios, and a famous "Happy Birthday Mr. President" comping for Marilyn Monroe in 1962.

One of the last active performers to have covered jazz from swing to bop and beyond, the passing of Hank Jones ends both a musical family tree and an era of musicians who truly were the history of jazz. But there is no end to their influence.

Photos: From the 2009 Detroit Jazz Festival, Hank Jones performed on opening night and received accolades from festival chief Teri Pontremoli. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, May 14-20

© Andrea Canter

This week features visiting artists at the top of the game—trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, bassist Christian McBride, and bassist/vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello, along with some local improvisors and prime-time vocalists.

One of the most talked-about trumpeters of the past decade, Jeremy Pelt won Downbeat’s “Rising Star Trumpeter” five years running. Now it seems inaccurate to call him a “rising star.” He’s high in the sky! Now he’s been with the Mingus Big Band for over a decade, as well as the Roy Hargrove and Duke Ellington Alumni Big Bands along with smaller ensembles like the Cannonball Adderely Legacy Band and Lewis Nash Septet. His own fiery quintet has been on tour but this weekend just Pelt comes into the Artists Quarter (5/14-15) to lock his horn with our own fiery band, with Tanner Taylor, Jay Young and Phil Hey. He’s doing two ticketed sets each night, 8:30 and 10:30 pm, so don’t follow your usual AQ timeline!

The Dakota hosts one of the most engaging events of the year on Sunday afternoon, the annual Jazz Piano Competition for high school students, sponsored by the Schubert Club and Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education. For the sixth competition finals, three students (from Robbinsdale, Northfield and Colorado Springs) will perform three compositions each, with a “backup” trio of Gordy Johnson and Phil Hey. Just the experience of playing with such stellar pros should make the afternoon worth the effort, but these three finalists also vie for a $500 Performance Prize on top of the $500 scholarships already won. Judging is informative and entertaining, with comments from the three adjudicators—Phil Aaron, Mary Louise Knutson and special guest, Christian McBride. No charge and open to all, at the Dakota from 2-4 pm.

Stick around, Christian McBride is also in town to perform at the Dakota (5/16-17) with his Inside Straight quintet, one of the hottest commodities on the modern jazz scene. McBride of course already is one of the living legends of the bass and not yet 40. He’s served as Artistic Director for such organizations as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Detroit Jazz Festival, but his true genius is his straight-ahead bass and bandleader skills. Case in point, Inside Straight, featuring the consistently burning highjinks of pianist Eric Reed, vibes master Warren Wolf, saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Carl Allen.

If you saw Meshell Ndegeocello’s electronic show last year at the Dakota, you might want to take another listen as she brings her “Best of Bitter” to the Dakota this week (5/18-19). This time it is all-acoustic, a reinvention of her 1999 pop classic, Bitter. She’s one of a kind, impossible to classify.

On the avant side of the stage, Luke Polopnick, Chris Bates and David Seru appear at Café Maude on Friday (5/14); the Copper Street Brass Quintet with tubaist Stefan Kac and guest drummer Reid Kennedy perform a unique mix of rock, funk and jazz in Antonello Hall at MacPhail on Saturday night (5/15); the Regional Jazz Trio (Anthony Cox, JT Bates and Mike Lewis) with Luke Polopnick takes over the Clown Lounge on Monday (5/17).

Best bets for song: Catch Nichola Miller twice this week, on Saturday (5/15, 11 am -1 pm) at the Mill City Farmer’s Market and on Thursday (5/20) with Rick Carlson at Spoon River; Charmin Michelle on Sunday (5/16) for brunch at Crave in the West End Shops and at Fireside Pizza Monday (5/17) and Wednesday (5/19) with Denny Malmberg; Arne Fogel on Tuesday (5/18) at Hell’s Kitchen; Debbie Duncan with Mary Louise Knutson at Camp Bar on Tuesday (5/18), while Debbie appears again at Hell’s Kitchen on Thursday (5/20); Nancy Harms with the Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen on Wednesday (5/19); Maud Hixson at Erte on Thursday (5/20), while Christine Rosholt fronts Beasley’s Big Band that night at the Wabasha Street Caves.

More straight head/modern jazz: Joan Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel (5.14-15); Sophia Shorai at Dakota Late Night (5/14) and Red Stag (5/16); Atlantis Quartet at Riverview’s Café Mocha (5/15) and Riverview Wine Bar (5/16); Cory Wong Quartet and Tuesday Night Band (5/18); How Birds Work (5/19) and the Brian Grivna Quartet (5/20) at the Artists Quarter.

Coming Soon!
• May 21-22, Stephanie Nakasian at the Artists Quarter. (Also public workshop at MaPhail on 5/23, 2-4 pm; visit www.jzvmn.org for more)
• May 21, 23, Symphonic Transients Orchestra (led by Stefan Kac) at Studio Z
• May 24-25, Tia Fuller Quartet at the Dakota
• May 28-30, Eric Alexander at the Artists Quarter
• June 1-2, Dave Holland Quintet at the Dakota
• June 17-19, Twin Cities Jazz Festival at Mears Park

Photos (top to bottom): Jeremy Pelt (2008 Detroit Jazz Festival); finalists in the Jazz Piano Competition--Quentin Tschofen, Chantil Dukart, and Kai Olstad; Christian McBride (2009 Detroit Jazz Festival). Photos by Andrea Canter except Chantil Dukart (courtesy of her dad)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Rachelle Ferrell: Six Octave Range of Emotion

© Andrea Canter

Dakota owner Lowell Pickett noted that there were no words to describe vocalist Rachelle Ferrell. Maybe that’s true. Or maybe all words describe her. There may be no sound in music, and no human emotion, that she can not deliver—not only conjuring every instrument in a symphony orchestra or every voice in a gospel choir, but the ghostly scraping of a creaky hinge, the chilling power of an avalanche, the life-affirming squeal of a newborn baby, the spattering pops of artillery fire, the delicate call of a bird or the fury of a charging elephant. In any key, in any interval within those six broad octaves. And she can shift that sound, that pitch, in a mere split second, twisting her mouth into myriad shapes that seem to pull each nuance directly from her heart. Over the course of a set running more than two hours at the Dakota May 6th), one imagined a gene pool of Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Aretha Franklin, Bettye LaVette, Minnie Riperton, and most certainly Bobby McFerrin.

Aside from her vocal prowess, Ferrell is a multi-instrumentalist, accompanying herself on a few songs on acoustic piano and the finale on electric keyboard; an accomplished violinist, at times her voice took on the timbre and elasticity of the high pitched strings… or make that all strings. She took us on rather wild treks through songs we thought we had already heard in infinite variations—“Autumn Leaves,” “Summertime,” “My Funny Valentine” (what she dubbed the “obligatory standard”), the latter a free improvisation where every syllable was grounds for experimentation. The program shifted in an R&B direction yet the vocal gymnastics were the focus regardless of source material. Those vocal chords became soft taffy on “How Can We Have Peace,” accompanied only by her own piano; her phrasing was like a slinky toy made of silly putty on an a cappella “Blackbird.”

With surprise guest, percussionist Sheila E, Rachelle traded some soulful commentary before E. took over the trapset. Soon the band dropped out, leaving Sheila and Rachelle to carry on one of the liveliest of musical conversations, a lengthy debate seemingly between two percussionists, each daring the other to have the last word, to match and surpass the last response.

Author Dom Cerulli (The Jazz World), speaking of Ella Fitzgerald, noted that “she seems to be unaware there are things a human voice just doesn’t to. She does them.” Rachelle Ferrell now takes the human voice beyond even Ella’s dreams.

Photos: Rachelle Ferrell (and with Sheila E) at the Dakota, May 6, 2010. Photos by Andrea Canter.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, May 7-13

© Andrea Canter

After hearing Rachelle Ferrell’s late set at the Dakota last night, I feel like I just heard the entirety of music in two hours. (Yes, she did a two+ hour set.) Still, there is more out there and plenty of jazz during the coming week in the Twin Cities.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of jazz’s true pioneers, Mary Lou Williams. Her sacred music will be performed in New York City this week. At the Artists Quarter (5/7-8), pianist Laura Caviani pays tribute to Williams with two nights of music written or inspired by Williams, including a premiere of a new composition Laura has written for the occasion. Williams has many claims to fame, as a technical virtuoso, composer, bandleader and philanthropist, but perhaps what has given her such an enduring influence on the music has been her ability, and motivation, to evolve from stride and swing to bebop and well beyond, such that her impact has been significant from the 1930s to the present. Duke Ellington described her as “perpetually contemporary.” And as such, Laura is more than qualified to salute Williams with her own “perpetually contemporary” approach to composition and improvisation, and she’s invited like-minded bassist Jay Young and drummer Phil Hey to join the party.

Friday night at the Dakota, it’s another round of Patty Peterson and Friends, which typically means another Peterson or two along with her standing band. At the AQ last weekend, the line was out the door when brother Ricky and most of the Peterson clan were on stage, so expect another packed house, and arrive early with a reservation to ensure seating. Patty and Mom Jeanne Arland Peterson do the mother/daughter thing for Mother’s Day Brunch at the Dakota on Sunday (5/9). Sunday also brings to town one of the legends of jazz guitar, Pat Metheny, taking the stage at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

For something a bit off the beaten bop path, Friday night (5/7) at The Loft features readings of poetry from the Jazz Age by poet Marilyn Nelson, accompanied by two local jazz “poets” –Faye and Donald Washington.

Two different styles but both with plenty of class on either side of the river on Wednesday (5/12). Hometown hero Bobby Lyle returns for a brief visit, at the Dakota with his trio. Lowell Pickett plans to have both the piano and Hammond B-3 available to allow the eclectic keyboardist to do in any direction, from smooth to bop to soul. At the Artists Quarter, one of the rising stars of vocal jazz will make her Twin Cities debut. Tessa Souter is based in New York where she has been showered with accolades for her latest release, Obsession. Her voice touches on Latin and Brazilian as much as swing and sway, and she’s touring with her very fine guitarist, Jason Ennis.

Thursday (5/13) marks another installment of KBEM’s Jazz After Work, this time at Erte in Nord’east with always savvy singer Maud Hixson. Stick around after the party for an evening with Maud and fine dining from the Erte kitchen. Or check out the future of jazz with the final concert appearance of the 2010 edition of the Dakota Combo at MacPhail’s beautiful Antonello Hall. This septet of outrageously talented high school musicians, directed by the outrageously talented Adam Linz, started strong in the fall but have now progressed to the level of a truly collaborative ensemble on par with college level bands.

More jazz, everywhere:
• Friday, 5/7: Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog; Sophia Shorai at Hell’s Kitchen; Larry Englund playing jazz DJ at Café Maude
• Saturday, 5/8: Bellagalla Big Band at the Hopkins Center for the Arts; JoAnn Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel; Benny Weinbeck at D’Amico Kitchen in the Chambers Hotel; Seru, Nichols and Buckley at Café Maude; Katie Gearty at Loring Kitchen
• Sunday, 5/9: Brunch at Trygs with Katie Gearty and Zacc Harris; Brunch at Hell’s Kitchen with Alicia Wiley; Brunch at Crave in the West End Shops with Charmin Michelle; Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar; Southside Aces Jam at the Nomad
• Monday, 5/10: Jazz at the Clown Lounge; Sophia Shorai and DeVon Gray at Loring Kitchen; Cantus Idol (fund raiser) at the Dakota; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza
• Tuesday, 5/11: Big band night at the Shorewood; Vital Organ at Hell’s Kitchen; Raul Midon at the Dakota; Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ; Dan Newton at Loring Pasta Bar; Tuesdays at the Clown Lounge; Debbie Duncan and Mary Louise Knutson at Camp Bar
• Wednesday, 5/12: Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen
• Thursday, 5/13: Connie Evingson at the Dakota; Phil Hey Quartet at the AQ

Coming soon!
• 5/14-15, Jeremy Pelt at the AQ
• 5/16, Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education/Schubert Club Jazz Piano Competition ( 2 pm with guest judge Christian McBride) at the Dakota
• 5/16-17, Christian McBride’s Inside Straight at the Dakota
• 5/18-19, Mshell Ndegeocello at the Dakota
• 5/21-22, Stephanie Nakasian at the AQ
• 5/24, Tia Fuller Quartet at the Dakota
• 5/28-30, Eric Alexander at the AQ
• The month of June at the Dakota (Dave Holland, Bill Charlap & Renee Rosness, Stacey Kent, Stanley Clarke and Hiromi, Doc Severinson, Jose James….. )
• June 11-12, Happy Apple at the AQ
• June 17-19, Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Mears Park
Photos (top to bottom): Laura Caviani; Patty Peterson; the Dakota Combo with December guest artist Tia Fuller, who returns with her own quartet later this month. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Pure Imagination

© Andrea Canter

Only two nights apart, some of the finest in spontaneous improvisation took place in two of the smallest, but maybe most appropriate, music spaces in the Twin Cities. With one common denominator (drummer Phil Hey), the two ensembles proved that “free jazz” is alive and well, and that it’s far more than rhythmic noise.

5/1, Lease/Moriarty Quartet. Saturday night was the last installment of the “Tonight at Noon” season at Studio Z in St. Paul’s Lowertown, a series of modern improvisation hosted by jazz and life partners Ellen Lease and Pat Moriarty. The piano/sax couple have long led the Lease/Moriarty Quintet, and for the past six months or so, have brought guest musicians to join them in some freewheeling creations. This weekend, the musical chefs included bassist Adam Linz and drummer Phil Hey, no strangers to spontaneous improvisation and composition. Linz plays most visibly with Fat Kid Wednesdays, locally, in New York and abroad, and lends his top-to-bottom explorations of the upright bass to a variety of settings, from solo to large chamber groups. Hey, in addition to his own quartet, mans the trapset for the Out to Lunch Quintet, going beyond Dolphy, and released a duo recording of improvisations with trumpeter and former local hero, Kelly Rossum.

With no planning, no pre-conceived ideas, this was akin to watching musicians create in a transparent skin, looking into the heart and brain to watch as well as listen to synapses forming and firing, ideas passing from one to another and back again. The one horn (Pat’s alto sax) was the only instrument to be used in a traditional manner—piano, bass and drums were each subjected to a variety of percussive experiments—from the scrapes of sticks and pounding of palms on the drums to the batting of the bow against the top of the bass and across strings below the bridge to Ellen’s transforming the inner strings of the piano into a quasi-vibraphone, using small mallets to elicit hollow twangs. Where was the video camera? And it’s not that Pat blew mainstream tones from the sax, to the contrary. Sometimes it was like a train whistle, a bird, a flock of birds, a chorus of trains. When focused on the keyboard itself, Ellen pummeled with her fists one minute and suggested Crispell-like ice crystals the next.

Each voice had its say in its time, invisibly signaling another voice to step in and redirect the music. As in the old Twilight Zone serial, we were transported beyond the normal range of sight and sound to another dimension. It was haunting, often beautifully melodic and dangerously thought-provoking. It was a perfect storm of improvisation.

5/3, Rossum & Hey. Speaking of Kelly Rossum, he was back in Minnesota, performing Friday and Sunday with the jazz bands at St. Olaf. He had just enough time to come down to the Clown Lounge below the Turf Club in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood to combust with Hey for one late-night set, reprising their recording, Conflict, released last summer. “Conflict” refers to the tension between trumpet and drums, a yin and yang, push and pull among two mortal friends. The pair dueled over three segments for about 45 minutes, pausing briefly between skirmishes to reload. The resulting music featured simultaneous plots as well as intense soloing: Rossum in full command of his horn’s many hidden voices, those that sing, those that squeal, those that whine with snakey elegance only to rehydrate as rusty hinges creaking in the dark; Hey covering every surface of the trapset with sticks, mallets and bare hands, from barely audible hints of power to full-blown explosions that make you dive for cover. I only recognized snatches of “Pure Imagination” and suspect the rest also originated in the material on Conflict, but no matter, the set in full was pure imagination.

Photos (top to bottom), Ellen Lease and Pat Moriarty joined with Adam Linz and Phil Hey at Studio Z; Kelly Rossum and Phil Hey in "conflict" at the Clown Lounge. (Photos by Andrea Canter)